There is only one hope for the Knicks and Nets regarding whether Giannis Antetokounmpo’s Bucks are destined to build an Eastern Conference dynasty behind the Brew City Big 3.
It came on an aside remark “The Greek Freak’’ made late Tuesday night.
It had been an emotional postgame celebration with Antetokounmpo dropping tears on the court after a 50-point, five-block masterpiece ended the Suns’ gallant bid. He also got choked up in the press conference when talking about his mother working so hard to get him to the pinnacle.
“Eight-and-a-half years, when I came to the league, I didn’t know where my next meal will come from,’’ he said. “My mom was selling stuff in the street.’’
Then the NBA’s most treasured personality added, “If I never have a chance to sit on this table ever again, I’m fine with it. I’m fine with it.”
Early Wednesday, Antetokounmpo, as his quirky nature, was on Instagram Live, at a Chick-fil-A drive-through with his two trophies in backseat — the Larry O’Brien Trophy and Bill Russell Finals MVP trophy. He said he hadn’t slept and jokingly made a “50-piece” chicken order.
What it might take to dethrone the Bucks as champions is Antetokounmpo eating a lot of chicken nuggets this offseason. And not having the same obsession to win Milwaukee a second championship. It’s hard to imagine that happening, which leaves the Nets and Knicks in a potential lurch.
Antetokounmpo is locked up until 2026 and already showed his disgust about star players moving elsewhere to join a superteams. His remark seemed a direct shot toward Atlantic Avenue and Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and, perhaps especially, James Harden, who forced a trade from Houston only months ago.
“It’s easy to go somewhere and go win a championship with somebody else,’’ Antetokounmpo said. “I could go — I don’t want to put anybody on the spot — but I could go to a super team and just do my part and win a championship. But this is the hard way to do it, and this is the way to do it and we freaking did it.”
And they can do it again. And again. Point guard Jrue Holiday, whom the Bucks obtained last November as the missing two-way piece, has a contract running through the 2024-25 season. Khris Middleton’s pact takes him to 2023.
While the Bucks may lose a key bench performer in ex-Knick Bobby Portis, they made the championship run without one of the game’s most underrated players, small forward Donte DiVincenzo, the Villanova champion who tore an ankle ligament.
Notre Dame alum Pat Connaughton stepped up in a similar role as a 3-point-shooter off the bench – a very good athlete who came up with an array of key offensive rebounds. Even reinvented center Brook Lopez, the only lottery pick on the championship team, is locked in until 2023.
“I know it’s the first chip and a lot of people call you a dynasty after a few (titles), but the continuity of that team is something that’s impressive and how they continue to build and add and now they’re champions, and you can appreciate that,” Durant said from the Tokyo Olympics.
If Antetokounmpo didn’t go underneath Irving as he went up for an uncontested layup in Game 4 of the second round, causing his ankle sprain, the Nets likely would’ve won the series even with Harden’s hamstring issue. As it is, the Nets were a Durant shoelace away from beating the Bucks in Game 7 on KD’s last-second jumper that was ruled a 2-pointer to signal overtime.
But the Nets faced Antetokounmpo at his most vulnerable. He was beset with a mental block from the 3-point and free-throw line.
His Finals surge with three 40-plus games capped by a 17-of-19 performance from the charity stripe, along with the experience of winning a championship, may only make him more unstoppable next season when he turns 27.
Maybe Nets coach Steve Nash will be better as a second-year tactician after getting outsmarted by Mike Budenholzer in the final two games.
In addition, Nets GM Sean Marks needs to figure out his big-man situation next season and find a Giannis stopper who can get between him and rim. Bigs Jeff Green and Blake Griffin are free agents and may not be back. Can defensive center DeAndre Jordan be dusted off just to harass “The Greek Freak.’’
As for the Knicks, their fourth-place finish of 41-31 looked a tad fluky after they got hammered in five games by the Hawks and Julius Randle fell back to Earth. However, it was Randle’s first playoff appearance and some scouts chalked it up to first-time jitters.
But even at his best, Randle vs. Antetokounmpo is a bad matchup. Same goes for rookie power forward Obi Toppin.
By Game 6 of The Finals, the 6-foot-11 superstar from Greece, even in the halfcourt, was simply barreling and spinning to the basket with ease, making even LeBron James blush.
The best news for the defensive-savvy Knicks to be competitive with the Bucks is the realization they went without injured shotblocking center Mitchell Robinson. A freakish athlete, Robinson, if he gets stronger, could be one big man who can at least give Antetokounmpo something to think about.
“We have two superstars who carried us this whole playoff series and the whole playoffs,’’ Holiday said. “We got great role players. We got the energy. We got Bobby. We got shooters. It’s just a great puzzle.’’
One that may not be broken up for some time on the shores of Lake Michigan.